David Niven

David Niven Headshot

Actor • Soldier • Writer

Birth Date: February 28, 1910

Death Date: July 29, 1983

Birth Place: London, England, UK

Handsome, debonair leading man David Niven was a strong actor. The son of a British Army captain, he followed in his father's footsteps but found the routine of military life between the wars so dreadfully boring that he resigned his commission and crossed the pond in search of adventure. Once in Hollywood, he worked as an extra and came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn who signed him to a contract with MGM, and he rapidly graduated from bit parts to supporting and lead roles which showcased his polished British diction and his lighthearted yet sincere manner. Niven's first major success came with Edmund Goulding's "The Dawn Patrol" (1938), in which he played a courageous, devil-may-care WWI pilot friend of Errol Flynn.

Niven's years with MGM were sometimes stormy, as when he initially refused to take the thankless role of Edgar Litton, second-fiddle to Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) for the affections of Cathy (Merle Oberon) in "Wuthering Heights" (1939). He was also loathe to suffer the dictatorial ways of director William Wyler, experienced first-hand during the filming of "Dodsworth" (1936), but acquiesced rather than suffer MGM's threatened suspension. Niven, who returned to military service during World War II, eventually becoming a lieutenant-colonel, was at the bottom of MGM's list after the war, and Goldwyn's loaning him out to other studios boded well for the actor. Before the war, audiences knew him primarily as the "hero's best chum," but the British directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger finally nailed down the charming Niven persona in his best starring performance to that time, "A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven" (1946). Although he continued to star in films, it would be another decade before his career would receive a comparable bump. Playing intrepid traveler Phileas Fogg in the Oscar-winning "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), Niven came off as the perfect stereotype of the unruffled English gentleman, and quite intentionally a caricature of 19th Century British propriety, his star quality enhanced exponentially by the 46 stars providing able support in the Mike Todd-produced extravaganza. By this time, he had also become a TV executive, having formed Four Star with Dick Powell, Charles Boyer and Ida Lupino, and the success of its projects probably had as much to do with his ever-present smile as anything. 1958 saw him star opposite Deborah Kerr in two movies that revealed the inadequacy beneath the charm and banter (a frequent theme running through his movies). "Separate Tables" earned him the Best Actor Oscar for his phony British major, with a made-up Sandhurst background and boring lies of WWII adventures, exposed when he's caught molesting a woman in a theater. Niven definitely profited from arguably the best script of his career and a more sympathetic role than his character in "Bonjour Tristesse," who proposes marriage to Kerr but continues to philander, ultimately driving her to an apparent suicide. Much of Niven's work over the last two decades of his career was slight, particularly during the period between 1965 and 1975 when he continued to cash paychecks for forgettable nonsense (i.e., "Prudence and the Pill" 1969, "Vampira" 1975), but movies like "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960, opposite Doris Day) and "The Pink Panther" (1964, with Peter Sellers), in which he played one of his many ultra-sophisticated thieves, enhanced his reputation as a fine comic actor. As for drama, "The Guns of Navarone" (1961), in which he played an explosives expert, and "55 Days in Peking" (1963), as the unusually observant British ambassador quietly stealing the show, helped dispel his image as weak and morally unreliable, casting him for the popular consciousness in the heroic mode. Maintaining his blend of politeness, stoicism and good humor to the end, Niven delivered some late gems to enliven average Disney projects, essaying the granddad in "No Deposit, No Return" (1976) and sparkling as the butler of many disguises in "Candleshoe" (1978), though the trademark charm was also solidly on display in the ensemble of slightly better movies (i.e., "Murder by Death" 1976; "Death on the Nile" 1978). David Niven died on July 29, 1983 in Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland at the age of 73.

Credits

Parkinson: The Interviews

Guest
Show
1995

Curse of the Pink Panther

Actor
Movie
1983

Curse of the Pink PantherStream

Actor
Sir Charles Litton
Movie
1983
29%

Better Late Than Never

Actor
Nick Cartland
Movie
1982

Trail of the Pink PantherStream

Actor
Sir Charles Litton
Movie
1982
23%

Walt Disney

Actor
J.W. Osborne
Show
1981

Rough Cut

Actor
Chief Insp. Cyril Willis
Movie
1980

The Sea Wolves

Actor
Col. W.H. Grice
Movie
1980

A Man Called Intrepid

Actor
Sir William Stephenson
Movie
1979

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Actor
Ivan
Movie
1979

Escape to AthenaStream

Actor
Professor Blake
Movie
1979

Death on the NileStream

Actor
Colonel Race
Movie
1978
78%

Candleshoe

Actor
Priory
Movie
1977

Murder by Death

Actor
Dick Charleston
Movie
1976

No Deposit, No Return

Actor
J.W. Osborne
Movie
1976

Paper Tiger

Actor
`'Major'` Walter Bradbury
Movie
1975

Old Dracula

Actor
Count Dracula
Movie
1974

King, Queen, Knave

Actor
Charles Dreyer
Movie
1972

The Statue

Actor
Alex Bolt
Movie
1971

The Brain

Actor
Col. Carol Matthews
Movie
1969

Before Winter Comes

Actor
Major Burnside
Movie
1969

The Extraordinary Seaman

Actor
Cmdr. John Finchhaven, RN
Movie
1969

The Dick Cavett ShowStream

Guest
Talk
1968

Prudence and the Pill

Actor
Gerald Hardcastle
Movie
1968

The Impossible Years

Actor
Jonathan Kingsley
Movie
1968

Les années fantastiques

Actor
Movie
1968

Prudence et la pilule

Actor
Movie
1968

Casino RoyaleStream

Actor
Sir James Bond
Movie
1967
26%

Eye of the Devil

Actor
Philippe de Montfaucon
Movie
1967

Where the Spies Are

Voice
Dr. Jason Love
Movie
1966

Lady L

Actor
Dicky
Movie
1965

The Rogues

Actor
Alec Fleming
Show
1964

Bedtime Story

Actor
Lawrence Jameson
Movie
1964

The Pink PantherStream

Actor
Sir Charles Lytton
Movie
1963
89%

55 Days at Peking

Actor
Sir Arthur Robertson
Movie
1963
57%

The Best of Enemies

Actor
Maj. Richardson
Movie
1962

Guns of Darkness

Actor
Tom Jordan
Movie
1962

Conquered City

Actor
Maj. Peter Whitfield
Movie
1962

The Guns of NavaroneStream

Actor
Cpl. John Anthony Miller
Movie
1961
92%

Please Don't Eat the DaisiesStream

Actor
Laurence Mackay
Movie
1960
57%

The June Allyson Show

Actor
Show
1959

The David Niven Show

Host
Show
1959

Ask Any Girl

Actor
Miles Doughton
Movie
1959

Happy Anniversary

Actor
Chris Walters
Movie
1959

Bonjour Tristesse

Actor
Raymond
Movie
1958

Separate TablesStream

Actor
Major Angus Pollock
Movie
1958
67%

Alcoa Theatre

Actor
Mark Garron
Show
1957

Oh, Men! Oh, Women!

Actor
Dr. Alan Coles
Movie
1957

My Man Godfrey

Actor
Godfrey Smith
Movie
1957

The Little Hut

Actor
Henry Brittingham-Brett
Movie
1957

Zane Grey TheaterStream

Actor
Series
1956

Zane Grey TheaterStream

Director
Series
1956

The Birds and the Bees

Actor
Colonel Patrick Henry Harris
Movie
1956

Around the World in 80 DaysStream

Actor
Phileas Fogg
Movie
1956
71%

The Silken Affair

Actor
Roger Tweakham
Movie
1956

El Ladrón del Rey

Actor
Movie
1955

The King's Thief

Actor
James Duke of Brampton
Movie
1955

Court Martial

Actor
Carrington
Movie
1955

The Love Lottery

Actor
Rex Allerton
Movie
1954

Tonight's the Night

Actor
Jasper O'Leary
Movie
1954

The Moon Is Blue

Actor
David Slater
Movie
1953
44%

Four Star PlayhouseStream

Actor
Series
1952

I've Got a SecretStream

Guest
Game Show
1952

La Espada Bengalí

Actor
Movie
1951

The Lady Says No

Actor
Bill Shelby
Movie
1951

Soldiers Three

Actor
Capt. Pindenny
Movie
1951

Island Rescue

Actor
Maj. Valentine Moreland
Movie
1951

Happy Go Lovely

Actor
B.G. Bruno
Movie
1951

The Jack Benny ProgramStream

Guest
Talk
1950

What's My Line?Stream

Guest
Game Show
1950

Las Redes del Amor

Actor
Movie
1950

The Elusive Pimpernel

Actor
Sir Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel
Movie
1950

The Toast of New Orleans

Actor
Jacques Riboudeaux
Movie
1950

Un Beso en la Noche

Actor
Movie
1949

Besos en la Oscuridad

Actor
Movie
1949

A Kiss in the Dark

Actor
Eric Phillips
Movie
1949

Almost a Bride

Actor
Kenneth Marquis
Movie
1949

Enchantment

Actor
General Sir Roland Dane
Movie
1948

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Actor
Prince Charles
Movie
1948

The Other Love

Actor
Doctor Anthony Stanton
Movie
1947

The Bishop's WifeStream

Actor
Henry Brougham
Movie
1947
85%

Magnificent Doll

Actor
Aaron Burr
Movie
1946

Stairway to Heaven

Actor
Peter Carter
Movie
1946

The Perfect Marriage

Actor
Dale Williams
Movie
1946

The Way Ahead

Actor
Lieutenant Jim Perry
Movie
1944

The Immortal Battalion

Actor
Lieutenant Jim Perry
Movie
1944

Spitfire

Actor
Geoffrey Crisp
Movie
1942

Raffles

Actor
Raffles
Movie
1940

Eternally Yours

Actor
Tony
Movie
1939

Wuthering HeightsStream

Actor
Edgar Linton
Movie
1939
96%

The Real Glory

Actor
Lt. Terence McCool
Movie
1939

Bachelor MotherStream

Actor
David Merlin
Movie
1939
100%

The Dawn Patrol

Actor
Lieutenant Scott
Movie
1938

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife

Actor
Albert De Regnier
Movie
1938

Four Men and a Prayer

Actor
Christopher Leigh
Movie
1938

Three Blind Mice

Actor
Steve Harrington
Movie
1938

The Prisoner of Zenda

Actor
Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim
Movie
1937

Dinner at the Ritz

Actor
Paul de Brack
Movie
1937

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Actor
Captain James Randall
Movie
1936

DodsworthStream

Actor
Capt. Clyde Lockert
Movie
1936
90%

Indian Love Call

Actor
Teddy
Movie
1936

Beloved Enemy

Actor
Captain Gerald Preston
Movie
1936

Palm Springs

Actor
George Brittell
Movie
1936

Thank You, Jeeves

Actor
Bertie Wooster
Movie
1936

Barbary CoastStream

Actor
Cockney Sailor Thrown Out of Saloo (uncredited)
Movie
1935
92%

Splendor

Actor
Clancey Lorrimore
Movie
1935